ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Work happening in a Rochester dentist office and lab is looking to pave a way to prevent early childhood caries, also known as teeth decay, in children.

It all starts in the dentist office with Dr. Jin Xiao and expecting mothers.

“Mom has great impact on children’s oral health from different levels,” said Dr. Xiao, director of prenatal oral health and associate professor at UR Medicine Eastman Dental. “One level is a biology factor, and some other factors are environmental factors. For example, utilization of care, how to take care of baby’s teeth.”

Dr. Xiao says mothers can pass on oral bacteria to their baby and not know it.

“If we don’t treat mothers, those will be passed down to the baby through very close interactions,” Dr. Xiao said. “For example: feeding babies, sharing utensils, and a lot of those interactions — it’s almost like you can’t avoid it.”

That’s why Dr. Xiao is pushing for mothers to get checked out before giving birth. One is to combat bad oral bacteria in the mother, and preventing birth issues for the mother.

“Studies have found that if mom has gum disease during the pregnancy, they actually are at higher risk to have low birth rate or preterm baby delivered, and the risk is about 1.6 times higher risk,” said Dr. Xiao. “So that’s another thing. If we help the mom, we also help the baby. The delivery phase will be much better and smooth to have a healthier delivery.”

Dr. Xiao’s work in Rochester goes beyond the dentist office: there’s also a research and lab component.

She examines bacteria collected from patients’ teeth to see if there is bacteria or yeast in a mother or child’s mouth that could lead to tooth decay.

“What we’re trying to do is to seize a critical window during the pregnancy, mom’s pregnancy, and baby’s early life, and trying to go from the perspective of fungal, the anti-fungal approach, to see if we can prevent tooth decay,” Dr. Xiao said.

The dentist says the long-term goal is to have healthy smiles for the mother and baby, and achieving oral health equity for underserved populations. As part of that goal, Eastman Dental is working on a cell phone app to help parents identify tooth decay.

“So this app will help to actually expand the access of the dental care to patients, to the parents, especially for underserved groups who do not have routine access to dental care,” said Dr. Xiao.

The dentist believes the approach Eastman Dental is taking will help lead to two generations of food oral health in the baby and the mother.       

The third part of Dr. Xiao’s work in Rochester is educating patients and the next generation of medical and dentist providers. The doctor wants providers to feel comfortable providing to mothers during pregnancy, and babies, once born.

Dr. Xiao’s advice to parents is to make sure babies attend the dentist by the time they are 1 years old, or by the time they have their first tooth.